Venues, clubs and events can return without distancing curbs - but face headaches over vaccine passports and face masks

Theatres, concert halls and nightclubs in Scotland have been given the green light to reopen without physical distancing restrictions –days before Edinburgh’s festivals are due to begin with the curbs still in place.

Tuesday, 3rd August 2021, 3:20 pm
Updated Tuesday, 3rd August 2021, 7:14 pm
Arthur Parsons (left) and Adam Fullick, who are starring in the show Bromance, at George Square Gardens, warm up ahead of the start of the Fringe on Friday. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Operators and organisers will have to insist that people keep face coverings on indoors when they are not eating or drinking at live events and festivals.

However the Scottish Government has yet to decide whether to definitely apply the law on masks in nightclubs, which will be allowed to reopen for the first time during the pandemic on Monday.

Venues may also have to handle a new vaccine passport scheme, due to launch next month, if they are deemed to present a “higher risk” of spreading Covid.

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This year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe begins on Friday. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the government would continued to advise people to keep a “safe distance” from people in other households, especially indoors, and avoid “crowded places.”

Organisers of large-scale events will have to seek special permission from local authorities or the Scottish Government for them to go ahead.

Glasgow’s TRNSMT festival said it was now “all systems go” for the event, which was moved back from July to September. Other festivals to announce they are definitely going ahead next month include The Gathering in Inverness and Riverside in Glasgow.

Organisers of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which starts on Friday, said the announcement from the First Minster was “hugely positive for artists and another step forward for our cultural recovery.”

TRNSMT is due to go ahead in September.

Although Fringe venues are expected to make their own decisions on whether to allow bigger audiences at shows, the Edinburgh International Festival and the book and film festivals have insisted they will keep audiences distanced after selling tickets on that basis.

Meanwhile nightclub industry representatives said they were “deeply concerned” at the impact of remaining restrictions, including the need for customers to wear face coverings.

Speaking in a virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon also warned that “keeping some distance from people in other households and avoiding crowded indoor places - even if no longer legally mandated - are still sensible precautions.”

She added: “I can also confirm that we continue to consider very carefully the possible, albeit limited, use of Covid status certification for access to certain higher risk venues in future.

“We’re currently developing an app to make access to Covid status certificates – which will include vaccination details - easier for international travel.

“The app will have functionality to support the use of such certificates for domestic settings should we decide that this is appropriate.

"However, I can assure parliament that we do not underestimate the ethical, equity and human rights issues associated with Covid status certification.”

Festivals, venues and sports clubs currently have to seek special permission from their local authority or the government to stage an event for more than 400 people indoors or 2000 outdoors, however these lower limits have been raised under the new easing of restrictions.

Ms Sturgeon added: “While we expect the careful return of large scale events we will, for a limited period, keep in place the processes through which organisers of outdoor events of more than 5000 and indoor events of more than 2000 will have to apply for permission.

“This will allow us and local authorities to be assured of the arrangements in place to reduce risk.”

Geoff Ellis, chief executive of DF Concerts, which stages TRNSMT and runs King Tut’s, in Glasgow, said: “It’s exactly what we wanted and needed to here with regards to TRNSMT – it’s wonderful news that we are all systems go this September.

“We still need to apply some common sense but it means that Scottish music fans can now enjoy a return to live music and in particular music festivals for the first time since the Summer of 2019. It is going to be emotional when we open the gates at Glasgow Green.

“It’s amazing to have confirmation that gigs under 2000 capacity, such as the Barrowlands in Glasgow and the King Tut’s ‘Summer Nights’ shows in August, can definitely go ahead.

“It’s also good news that, for those bigger indoor concerts, we can apply for permission to go ahead which my team will get onto straight away. I’m sure we can satisfy the authorities that they will all be safe to proceed.”

Andy Arnold, artistic director at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, said: “We had already decided to delay re-opening until October and this announcement confirms we can do this.

"While we will be able to return to normal seating arrangements we will be imposing our own restrictions on some seating and implementing other safeguarding measures to reassure our audiences about the safety of coming back into our theatre.

"We have a great autumn programme lined up and we can’t wait to start making theatre again.”

However Gavin Stevenson, vice-chair of the Night-Time Industry in Scotland, said: “We remain deeply concerned that yet again Scottish businesses are being subjected to ongoing restrictions that compromise business viability and risk adversely impacting customer safety.

"Throughout the pandemic, Scottish businesses have been treated more harshly than their counterparts in England.

"With the summer season now almost over, the move beyond Level 0 will come too late to save many of the businesses in tourist areas now crippled by debt and whose survival is on the line.

“The ongoing restrictions and baseline measures mean continued challenges to viability, and for nightclubs in particular any ongoing requirement for masks puts their very future at risk.”

Donald MacLeod, owner of the Garage and Cathouse nightclubs in Glasgow, said: “Social distancing has always made places like ours unviable, but mask-wearing does as well. It would be almost impossible to try to police the wearing of masks on a dance-floor. I also think they’d be dangerous.

"Face coverings are not required now. The back of the virus has been broken. But it seems that the back of businesses are getting broken now.”